Top 10 Cancer-fighting Superfoods

By Tan Sher Lynn

Do you know that our body is making defective cells all the time? Thousands of cells which can potentially develop into cancer circulate the body of a healthy person every day. Thankfully, our body is also equipped with a number of mechanisms which detect and keep these cells in check, thus preventing cancerous tumours from developing. Boost your body’s natural ability to fight off cancer with these superfoods.

1) Green Tea

Green tea is rich in polyphenols that reduce the growth of new blood vessels needed for the development of tumours. It is also a powerful antioxidant and activates mechanisms in the liver which help to eliminate cancerous toxins from the body more rapidly. Besides, green tea contains catechins, a class of flavonoids which has recently gained popularity for their anti-cancer potential. In laboratory studies, green tea has been shown to slow or completely prevent cancer development in colon, liver, breast and prostate cells. Other studies involving green tea have shown similar protective effects in tissues of the lung, skin and digestive tract as well.

2) Turmeric

Turmeric is known to most of us as the gold-coloured Indian spice used in making curry. It is a highly potent cancer fighter and contains the phytochemical curcumin known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-arthritic, anti-tumour and anti-amyloid (combats neurodegenerative diseases) effects. According to the American Cancer Society, studies show that curcumin can kill cancer cells in laboratory dishes and also slows the growth of the surviving cells. Curcumin has been found to reduce development of several forms of cancer in lab animals and to shrink animal tumours. While the use of turmeric in cooking is very safe, caution should be taken when it comes to turmeric-based supplement. The Cancer Research UK notes that certain turmeric based food supplement contain the strong anti-inflammatory drug nimesulide which can cause serious damage to the liver.

3) Mushroom

Mushrooms have long been used in Asia for food as well as medicine, dating back to 100AD in China. Shiitake mushroom is believed to be effective in fighting the development and progression of cancer by boosting the body’s immune system. Studies in animals have found anti-tumour, cholesterol-lowering, and virus-inhibiting effects in compounds in shiitake mushrooms, such as lentinan, which stops or slows tumour growth. Laboratory research indicates that lentinan helps stimulate the production of T lymphocytes and natural killer cells (NK cells) which actively scan the body for abnormal cells and destroying them before they can develop into actual cancers. Besides shiitake, other varieties of mushroom which boost anti-cancer benefits include Maitake, Reishi and Phellinus Linteus.

4) Broccoli

Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have found that broccoli and broccoli sprouts have the highest amount of suforaphane among many cruciferous vegetables. Moreover, the tiny, thread-like broccoli sprouts have more than 50 times the amount of sulforaphane found in mature broccoli. Suforaphane is a potent compound that boosts the body’s protective enzymes and flushes out cancer-causing chemicals. It’s best to steam broccoli to retain their powerful cancer-fighting molecules. As for broccoli sprouts, just add them to salads, sandwiches, stir-fry, pasta, or use them as edible garnishes.

5) Garlic

Several large studies have found that those who eat more garlic are less likely to develop various kinds of cancer, especially in digestive organs such as the esophagus, stomach and colon. The two active ingredients in garlic, allicin and allyl sulphur have been demonstrated to prevent and fight cancer in both animals and humans. According to the National Cancer Institute, an analysis of seven different large-scale population studies shows that the more raw and cooked garlic a person consumed, the lower his risk of stomach and colorectal cancer. So, remember to incorporate garlic in your daily cooking or eat them raw together with your meals.

6) Tomato

Tomato, especially when cooked, is high in lycopene, an antioxidant compound proven to inhibit the growth of particularly aggressive cancers. People who have diets rich in tomatoes appear in some studies to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, especially cancers of the prostate, lung and stomach. Lycopene gives tomatoes and certain other fruits and vegetables their colour. As such, you can also get a good dose of lycopene from other brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, squash, apricots and beets.

7) Berries

Numerous studies have confirmed that berries are the best foods to maximise your intake of cancer-fighting antioxidants. One study shows that among over 100 fruits analysed, cranberries, blueberries and blackberries top the list for antioxidant content. Berries have been shown to prevent carcinogenesis (initiation of cancer formation) by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory molecules. Besides, berries also hinder cancer cell proliferation, oxidative stress and products of oxidative stress such as DNA damage. Just a single cup of berries a day was found to provide the recommended daily intake of antioxidants.

8) Grapes

Both grapes and grape juice contains resveratrol, with the skin of the grape having the most. Also, red and purple grapes contain significantly more resveratrol than green grapes. Studies suggest that polyphenols in general and resveratrol, in particular, possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which may help in preventing the kind of damage known to trigger carcinogenesis in cell, tissue and animal models. Laboratory research also points to resveratrol’s ability to slow the growth of cancer cells and inhibit the formation of tumours in lymph, liver, stomach and breast cells; and triggering the death of leukemic and colon cancer tumours.

9) Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, choy sum and kai lan are excellent sources of fibre, folate and a wide range of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin which scavenge dangerous free radicals from the body before they can promote cancer growth. Laboratory research has found that carotenoids in dark green leafy vegetables can inhibit the growth of certain types of breast, skin, lung and stomach cancer cells. Meanwhile, folate is shown to reduce the risk of lung and breast cancer.

10) Whole Grains

Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel (germ, bran and endosperm) while refined grains usually have the bran and germ removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm. Examples of whole-grain foods include wheat breads, oatmeal, corn, wild rice, rye, quinoa and buckwheat. Whole grains are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and hundreds of natural plant compounds, called phytochemicals such as phenols and phytoestrogen, which protect cells from damage that may lead to cancer.

The above foods are highly recommended to be incorporated in your daily diet due to their high nutritional content and anti-cancer properties. However, it is also important to note that choosing foods from a variety of fruits, vegetables and other plant sources such as nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans is healthier than consuming large amounts of one particular food, as according to the American Cancer Society. The organisation also recommends eating a balanced diet that includes five or more servings a day of vegetables and fruits, choosing whole grains over processed and refined foods, and limiting red meats and animal fats to reduce cancer risk.

Reference:

  1. The American Cancer Society. (www.cancer.org)
  2. Cancer Research UK. (www.cancerresearchuk.org)
  3. American Institute for Cancer Research (www.aicr.org)

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